Friday, February 20, 2015

DADDIES DON'T BREAK--PART FOUR

A TALE FOR GROWNUPS ONLY


But it wasn't Quentin who came up. It was Lionel, apologizing for coming over without warning and in an air of such unhappy haste that we had no choice but to reassure him, with a glass of sparkling and a quick introduction to and backstory on runaway Bentley and his valise.


"It's a bad time, yes, I see that," said Lionel, settling in on the couch while trying to look as temporary as possible, "but frankly I don't know which way to turn. It's...I'm sure I've mentioned him. Clete Jarvis? I've known him for eons, and...Oh, this is so awful, I'm just going to crash into it." A deep breath, then: "He's dying. It's some blood disease. He's had it a long time. Long time. But now...and he's actually taking it...well, calmly. But, see, he's worried about his dog, who's going to take care of it after he...So he wants to adopt it out, and now, not later."

Those of us who had been standing now sat. Those sitting leaned back. It was listening time.

"Look, Clete knows the dog will be killed if it ends up in  shelter, because there's something wrong with it. Some I don't know thing. One night he simply fell backward and wet himself. Just helplessly...A weakness in his hind legs. And there's this idea in the dog pack that if one of them is vulnerable in some way, the others attack it. Instinct stuff. This dog knows he has Clete's love, but there's always that nature thing, you know. Of course, Clete picked him up and carried him into the bathroom. Washed him. Comforted him. And the next day the vet...and of course it's never good news."

"What sort of dog is he?" asked Cosgrove.

"They kill them at these shelters if they're not adopted. They call it 'euthanizing.' To make it sound like...a birthday party or something. Why don't they just say what it is? They kill them." Now he answered Cosgrove's question: "Little Nemo. It's a white lab. Wary of strangers, but very affectionate within the pack. And he loves to go out and tour the neighborhood. Clete was like that, too, until...You know, like straights run around a lot in their twenties and then they get homebound. But gays run around all their lives, because we don't want to miss anything. Clete never knows when...when his condition will get...so he and the dog are his whole world, and they play together. He has these antique building sets from eBay, in little yellow boxes. Cars and jet planes and...like with bags of screws and bolts. He sits on the floor with the dog and constructs these...objects. The instructions are printed on the back of these little boxes, and they're incredibly hard to read. Compressed. And the dog helps him, taking up a piece in his mouth and offering it to Clete. "Now bolt this one on" sort of thing. Of course, it's never the right piece."

Lionel almost lost it then, but he kept on going.

"There's a whole series of them. Meccano, they're called."

Everyone looked at me.

Clearing my throat, I explained, "I have those sets myself." I got up and went over to the chotchke display in the breakfront--Coca-Cola trucks, a Beatles harmonica, Tin Tin figurines, a penguin beanie baby that Cosgrove won playing Strip Bingo at the LGBTQXMGDWZF Community Center, and a Meccano racing car with juicy decals dotting its surfaces. I showed it to Lionel, and he took it, studying it as if it held the answer to some central question. Everyone else just sat there, except Cosgrove picked Fleabiscuit up and set the dog in his lap. No one else is allowed to handle him.


And then the buzzer sounded.


"My my," said Dennis Savage. "I wonder who that could be."


Bentley hunched up a bit, as if he wanted to disappear, and now it really was Quentin. Carlo let him in, and no one said anything as Quentin surveyed the gathering, processing not only his errant boy friend but the valise as well. Moving into the room, Quentin asked Bentley, "You runnin' off somewhere? Because you're gonna come home and face the music."


Suddenly invigorated, Bentley cried, "Oh no, I'm not!"


"First of it, you have nowhere else to go. And second, yes, you will."


"I won't let you trouble me!"


Quentin accepted a glass of sparkling from me and quietly told Bentley, "You're lucky there's folks around." He never looked more big-shouldered and thrilling, but (laying aside the gay talk) one might instead just say that combat veterans are a breed apart. Thank you for your service.


"I'm always cheered when a dangerous hunk enters the scene," said Lionel, "especially when he's pursuing a twisted relationship with a handsome boy. At any other time, I'd dance a jig. But right now I need to redeem Little Nemo, and I'm sorry but one of you needs to adopt him, Yes, it's pushy. It's unforgivable. And you're already dog owners, I see that."


"Actually," I said, "we're the dog's wait staff."


"You're stubborn," Quentin said, addressing Bentley but looking in Lionel's direction. (Lionel much confused.)


"Where's your stupid toothpicks?" cried Bentley. "That you're always chewing on so rudely?"


Quentin stepped toward him, but Bentley moved away, behind the couch, as Carlo warned Quentin, "No rough stuff, chief."


"Save that for later," Quentin replied.


"Please, please, people," Lionel pleaded, "don't hijack the thread. I'm trying to get a home for a very deserving doggie."


"Is he sweet-natured?" Cosgrove asked, while Quentin stared menacingly at Bentley and Bentley continued to defy him with head-high looks and clenched fists. He looked as the Norse god Thor must have in his second-grade Easter pageant.


"Yes, he's sweet-natured," Lionel told Cosgrove. "Sweet as apple candy."


"Where do you plan to live, if not with me?" Quentin asked Bentley.


"I'll find a way! There are some that like me, whatever you say!"


"What's apple candy?" Cosgrove asked.


"Will someone please help?" Lionel cried, almost feebly. "This is a wonderful animal. His poor master is dying, and instead of hoping for a cure he just wants to find his old friend a home. He is a good dog. A noble dog."


"Why is he noble?" Cosgrove asked.


At first Lionel didn't answer. He sighed and worried.  Then: "He was a combat dog in Iraq. Sniffing out enemy munitions or something. So he...well, he saved lives, didn't he? They tend to burn out because the work is so intense, and the noises of war unnerve them. Somehow or other he was brought back here, and then...some program, I don't know. But listen. When you put a dog in a shelter, it breaks him. Because his whole existence is bound up in the relationship with his owner. When you give him up, he feels rejected to the very bottom of his soul. He doesn't understand that you're unable to go on with him. You see these dogs in those cages, not moving and turned away from everything with their head down, all torn up. They have feelings, you know, just like us."


There was a silence, during which Lionel finally set the Meccano racer down on the coffee table. And then Quentin said, "I'll take the dog."


Lionel looked up at him. "You would...really?"


"The boy can look after it, instead of screwing everything else up. I s'pose he could do that much. Got my truck outside, so we can go pick the dog up tonight. If His Highness climbs down from his throne."


"Such a dog will bite you," said Bentley, still the antagonist, "if you try to strike me."


Quentin just shook his head in resignation.


Lionel sprang up. "Okay, then. Let's...let's do the truck and the dog and Clete will...well, he'll be so relieved, and it's...it's sad. But at least Little Nemo is saved."


"What kind of name is that for a combat dog?" Quentin asked. "I recall they're usually Sarge or Runner and the like."


"It's from an old comic strip," I explained. "Nemo was a little boy who dreamed each night of fanciful adventures in the sky, and in the last panel he would awaken back on earth."


Quentin looked at Bentley, his expression saying, Unlike the boy, who never returns from his fanciful adventures. And Bentley looked back, his face a blank.


"I'm Lionel, by the way" was the start of some introductions, whereupon he called his friend on my land line to have him get Little Nemo ready to travel. That would be a farewell I didn't like to think about, but, meanwhile, everyone got up to mill about and Quentin, staring at Bentley, very, very quietly said, "C'm'ere." Bentley came. Behind me, I heard Lionel saying, "No, I don't know them, but they...the names? I...who knows, Tom Sawyer and Robo-Cop..." But I tuned out to watch Quentin take Bentley's hand in his and mime writing letters in his palm. Then Bentley did the same to Quentin--some sort of private ritual, it appeared. Cosgrove was collecting the glasses and Carlo and Dennis Savage were conferring about something or other, but Quentin and Bentley were lost in secret séance.


To washing-up noises in the kitchen, Lionel got off the phone and, for some reason, picked up Bentley's valise, saying, "Let's roll!" Carlo opened the door and then Bentley impulsively threw his arms around Quentin and held on tight. He said, "Don't...don't..." Just that much. But Quentin didn't hold the boy in return. Again most quietly, he said, "No one else can understand," and Bentley relinquished his hold. Lionel marched out, Bentley followed, and Quentin, also leaving, said, "Now it's good," though he never sounds content when he says it.


It was all over but the recaps, and finally bedtime rolled around. Dennis Savage went up to his place, and Carlo told me, "Got something to say to you, Bud." To Cosgrove he added, "Need privacy for this."


"It's about how Quentin and Bentley are father and son, right?" Cosgrove answered. "He told us so riding in the park, and that's as solemn as a pinky swear."


"Young Bentley's always making things up," Carlo told him. "You know that. Scoot, now."


Cosgrove went into the bedroom, but Fleabiscuit dawdled to play spy, and Carlo told him, "Dog, too." So he joined Cosgrove, though he grumbled all the way.


Watching the dog depart, Carlo told me, "Break out the hard stuff. Got something to say."


Vodka on the rocks with lime.


"What it is, Bud," he began, taking across the coffee table from me, "is small-town life. No independence. Everyone knows what you're doing. Sure, it's farms, mostly. Lots of open space and hiding places. But they find you. They know you."


He took a gulp of liquor, swallowed, and drew breath at his leisure.


"High school's about dating. You get wow on a girl, say. And she's wow on you? Check. Next thing," as he put his feet up on the table, stretching out as he unveiled his tale, "she's pregnant. And all the town's after her for the father's name. The name! The name! We will have this name! And why do they need it so?"


Another swallow.


"To make him pay. He's young and interesting and having his fun. Guys in charge? Can't stand that. They hate young. They hate interesting. But you know what they hate most of all?"


"Liberty," I said.


He nodded. Suddenly, he got up and went to my desk, one drawer of which is his, private, absolute. No one else can go there. He fished something out and came over to show it to me.


Half an amulet.


"That's Bentley's," I said. "He said his father has the matching piece."


Carlo shook his head, holding the thing and moving his hand up and down as if weighing it. How light is love?"


"It's not Bentley's," he said. "It's mine, given to me quite some time ago now."


And then it all fell into place. "Quentin really is Bentley's father," I said. "And his lover. Bentley's just guessing, but you've known it all along."


"We were special-close, Bud. He had feelings for me, so he gave me this as a token. To protect me. Care for me. Because he knew he was going to light out of the place before I did."


"Cosgrove," I called out, "stop eavesdropping and go to sleep!"


There was no response, but I did hear rustling; and Fleabiscuit growled a little.


"And now with the boy Bentley," Carlo went on. "Protect or care? Flash by night? Will they hold each other so tender over the years, or is it just housemates taking advantage of a situation?"


"There's this famous story," I said. "They asked Zhou Enlai if the French Revolution was a good thing."


Carlo walked over to the windows and pulled one open; I felt a breeze of cool summer-night air flow in.


"This would be about, say, 1971. And Zhou replied, 'It is too early to say.'"


At which Carlo hurled the amulet into the night.


"Of course," I continued, "some say he was actually talking about the rebellion of 1968, which takes all the air out of the tale."


"Some things are best left unknown," Carlo observed, coming back to me. "Because there are just too many damnhell feelings inside. Too many hopes. Too many Bentleys waiting to be rescued, running around with their bags all packed and their feelings hurt."


He sat again, took up his drink, and gulped down the rest of it. All gone.


"Just like us."






Thursday, February 19, 2015

DADDIES DON'T BREAK--PART THREE

A TALE FOR GROWNUPS ONLY
As the mild weather set in, Cosgrove and I pumped up our bicycle tires and went out tooling along the Central Park loop; hearing of this, Bentley wanted to join us. He had to rent some cockeyed old thing, but he rode without problems. It was a weekday, so the roadway was virtually ours, and we could roll in a threesome, conversing.

It was very democratic: each of us took a turn introducing some topic of personal interest, and the rest of us would chime in with reactions. I started, suggesting that we each express a wish. Mine was that Oxford University Press abandon its insistence on peer-reviewing book proposals, which has no purpose other than to humiliate authors. My old Oxford editor, Sheldon Meyer, said it humiliated editors, because he was a polymath who was perfectly capable of deciding whether or not to offer on a book without help from espontaneos.

Of course, my biking partners hadn't the slightest interest in the niceties of academic publishing. Let's get to the hot stuff.

Cosgrove announced a wish to be involved in a scandal which would be called Cosgrovegate. "Then" he declared, "I'll be in all the dictionaries."

"What kind of scandal?" Bentley asked.

"About medium size. With disapproving editorials and aggravation from the paparazzi."


Bentley's wish was to find a way to get Quentin to appreciate him instead of getting on his case when he spills things. "I need a place without worries, because so far I'm always in grievance, no matter where." After pedaling a bit, he asked me, "Do you know of somewhere that everyone is nice, with nothing but lovely events?"


"Westbury Music Fair?"


"He says I'm like a used car, always breaking down, and then I weep and he growls at me for being soft."


"Couldn't you move?" Cosgrove asked.


"Oh, I couldn't live with a stranger."


I was about to say that Quentin was one of the strangerest men I knew, when Bentley went on with "The first night I was here and moved in with him, he brought in a joint at bedtime for us to share. You wouldn't do that with someone you don't know."


"All right, you and he are from the same home town," I replied, as we zipped along the straightaway behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "But with the gap in your ages, it's not as if you would have been friends before."


"We were sitting next to each other on the edge of the bed," Bentley continued, holding to his scene. "And I tried to set up a nice social conversation, but he wouldn't talk. Then he said, 'Let me blow the smoke to you,' and he put his mouth on mine and kind of toked me. Kissing-like. Yes, and then I had to blow the smoke to him back, he said, till he pulled me around to sit in front of him and stubbed the joint down and we went back to kissing. And then he fucked me on my back, which is when he's nice to me. He stayed over in my bed, so I dreamed about holidays and candy and making some dinner dish that he would really like."


"How about chicken pot pie?" I asked, which was churlish of me. It didn't faze Bentley, anyway, because he had more story to tell: "I call him 'Daddy Kiss Goodnight' when he comes in with a joint. You've noticed how tall he is, so he just commands me, and there's nothing you can do about it."


Bentley was running in the middle of our little group, and Cosgrove and I fell a bit behind so we could share a look.


"I saw that," Bentley told us, as we moved into that stretch at the northeast corner of the loop, where you can really pick up speed. No talking. We raced along till we got to the shortcut to the West Side and turned in there, slowing down because there's always a cop car along this route. And there Bentley piped up again.


"We lie together in the darkness," he said. "We tell each other secrets. He says I'm fuck and pretty, and that's what counts. And he never breaks, no matter how tough it gets, with the betrayals of cheap friends and their gloomy personalities. Daddies never break, you know."


We swung back into the roadway to head south along the loop, and Cosgrove murmured, "Daddies never break," as if memorizing the meme for future use.


And then, calm as a Sunday morn in snowfall, Bentley said, "He's my daddy, you know. My mom was knocked up when they were still in junior high, and she wouldn't tell who the father was no matter how they threatened. Now she's with a character I can't stand, so I came here. Because if you have to suffer under fiendish authority, it might as well be your own personal daddy, even if he does try to make me eat carrot fish, which is all he ever cooks."


"Carrot fish?" Cosgrove asked.


"I'm not familiar with that species," I said.


"It's not a kind of fish," Bentley told us, with a sarcastic air. The barn doesn't dance at a barn dance, you silly. "It's fish with carrots alongside."
      
"I'm not clear on something," I announced, waiting to continue as a pack of Lance Armstrongs went past us like hurricanes in those crazy getups they wear. "You're saying Quentin is your father? Not 'daddy' as in Who's Your Daddy? but 'daddy' as in Flesh of My Flesh?"


Serenely pedaling on, Bentley said, "Go ahead and don't believe me. I knew nobody would."


Cosgrove finally got it. "Quentin is your parent? And he...has sex with you?"


"He says, 'Goin' to rough you up a little' as he moves me into place, but that's just his way. He's loving to be with me, just as daddy should, and when we sleep he holds me and I'm safe."


We pedaled along, each in his thoughts.


"So I really shouldn't complain about the way he treats me."


As we passed the water fountain, two kids were playing hide-and-seek with a little dog. He found them behind a tree and all three of them whooped it up and danced for joy.


"'Goin' to rough you up a little,'" Bentley repeated. "And then I'm safe."


                            ****************************


You know these bad, or at least odd, marriages: they jes' keep rollin' along, like Ol' Man River. Sometimes we felt like a counseling service, as Quentin would show up with a bottle of scotch (Johnny Walker Red, so for all his jagged edges he was not without style), ostensibly to hang with Carlo but really to vent about Bentley. Or the boy himself would join us with a mac and cheese casserole, to prove that he could cook, after all. Okay, but don't put broccoli in your mac and cheese. They were pleasant evenings, all told, because for all his gruff intolerance Quentin was very different from the gays I knew, supplying a learning opportunity no writer wants to turn down. And Bentley was a sweetheart. However, one evening he pulled in with an overnight bag, asking to stay with us because Quentin was "after him."


"Of course," I said. "But this is the first place he'll look."


Dropping his bag and heaving himself onto the couch with a theatrical sigh, Bentley accepted a glass of sparkling and asked Cosgrove how his  screen play was coming along.


"I'm up to where a wonderful hunk is disguised as Santa Claus, meets the naughty Christmas elf, and stages a disciplinary intervention."


"Well," said Bentley, now that the social preliminaries had been executed, "Quentin threatened to take me across his knee."


"In boots and a cape?" Cosgrove asked.


Dennis Savage and Carlo came in just then, back from the latest James Bond movie and eager to analyze the gadgets and spoil the surprises. Realizing that he was in danger of losing control of the staging, Bentley cried, "Quentin's on the rampage!"


"In that case," said Cosgrove, "I may have to serve fashionable East Side snacks."


"We had popcorn," said Carlo.


"Yes, popcorn." This from me. "Why do you have to nosh at the movies? Why can't you just--"


"Won't anybody help in my hour of need?" Bentley wailed.


Everyone turned to him then, even Cosgrove's dog, Fleabiscuit, who was just about to teethe open his shoelaces, his favorite trick. Other dogs roll over and play dead; Fleabiscuit loosens your shoes. But that's gay life: even the dumb animals are gifted.


"I'm a poor little lad wandering the world," Bentley told us. "I crossed the country to find refuge with my daddy, and he just calls me 'Spazz' and says the coffee tastes like Adolf Hitler's gallstones." He looked straight on at us defiantly then. "Yes, he's my daddy, born and true. I always dreamed that he would come to get me, so I packed a suitcase to be ready at any moment, under my bed. He was to call to me and I would climb out the window with my suitcase. Well, he never came. I had to go find him and be special-close."


Boy, is there a lot of story in this kid? The rest of us just stood there, because what is there to say?


"Carlo will tell you," Bentley continued. "He will know of the famous mystery where my mom got pregnant, and who could it be? But everyone knew that they were totally. Quentin and my mom. I rehearsed it, dipping my hand under the bed to get my valise and jump into my daddy's arms. But he never came for me."


The playwright of life failed us here, because none of us knew our lines after that. But Cosgrove finally asked, "What was in your valise?"


"The facts of my existence, Cosgrove--because I know you'll understand, at least. Documents, photos, and Snickers bars, to appease the hunger for love. Souvenirs. Underpants. I prefer the whiteys, with a close fit. Then came my voyage. That was after Coach, which is how I knew that older guys like me. And in Pittsburgh, I recall, a TV newscaster took photos of me disguised as a cowboy, and I thought I'd go on the stage as the young hero who dies singing love songs, like in West Side Story. And then my daddy, who you have to be careful when you talk politics, especially after he was in Iraq. And when he gets mad I tell him how beautiful he is, and tells me to get on his cock and show respect. Not to mention we have to move a family in Brighton Beach, and I know I'll break something and get punished."


Then he stopped, and Dennis Savage took over.


"Dear heart," he began, with his famous irritating patience (well, it irritates me; everyone else thinks it's his best quality), "you just hit about nine basic gay fantasies. The only thing you left out is giving a Tony Award acceptance speech."


"Carlo," Bentley asked, "is he my daddy or isn't he?"


Carlo said nothing.


So Bentley got up, strode over to his valise--yes, he strode, no nonsense, now they'll see!--and rummaged through it till be pulled out a key chain attached to a silver amulet, cut through with a crooked line down its center, leaving just a half of the object. It looked like something out of an old Shubert Brothers operetta, the kind that got blasting reviews from Baltimore to Cleveland and folded in Albany. Bentley thrust it at us as if offering proof of something.


"This is half of our love," he announced. "And he has the other half, which just goes to show. My daddy gave it to me before he left, before I even packed the valise, which I was waiting all that time. Didn't he promise that one day we would join up and press the two pieces of the amulet together? But now he says it must be someone else and not him. Because he has no amulet. And he says he's not old enough to be a daddy. Oh no? 'Cause I counted it up, and if he was in eighth grade when I was born, he would be thirty-three now. Yes, and that's what he is."


He showed us his half of the amulet again.


"Thirty-three years of age," he concluded, "in the world of love!"


Then the buzzer rang.


"One other half of the amulet coming up," said Dennis Savage.
                                   
 TO BE CONTINUED








Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DADDIES DON'T BREAK--PART TWO

 A TALE  FOR GROWNUPS ONLY








Quentin and Bentley were an uncomfortable fit, the young man trying to promote himself and the older man shooting him down. But there's always a subtext, isn't there? Bentley wasn't just some kid subletting a room in the apartment of some guy from his home town; the pair were engaged in a psychological transaction.


They hid it. For instance, they would show up for our dinners separately, as if they weren't aware of each other's schedule, Quentin storming in for another episode of The World at War while Bentley would let Cosgrove show off our apartment's points of interest.


One time, Quentin arrived when Cosgrove was working on his latest project, a screenplay. Any sort of writing intrigued Quentin, who intended, some day, to collect his and his comrades' war stories.


"And, of course," Cosgrove was saying, "one hit movie and you're fixed for life."


"Need a snappy title," Quentin told him. "What'll you call it?"


"Croctopus Meets Gladiator With Zombies. It's trending."


"That's a lot of words," Quentin replied.


"Or," Cosgrove went on, "I may just call it Bring Me the Rest of Alfredo Garcia."


After a moment, Quentin, addressing me, said, "I've got one of those at home, too." He then settled down to watch democracy battle fascism, and Bentley finally showed up, a half hour late, as usual. Cosgrove entertained him with an exhibition of my various Meccano building sets. The main one is a huge red box that my father brought back from France, with an elaborate instruction manual (in French) and two tiers of parts. I was eight or nine years old at the time, and of course the application of a construction toy, my involuntary membership in the Boy Scouts, and the subscription to Popular Mechanics were meant as homophobic "reparative" therapy avant la lettre. Fools! The Meccano set didn't make me straight: on the contrary, it nurtured the gay creative streak in me. Anyway, what did you think would happen when you took me to musicals? Before the first intermission of Saratoga, I was struck gay, never to return.


But I digress with pleasantry. These dinners always went well, because neither Quentin nor Bentley was kitchen-ready, and home cooking contented them. Dennis Savage was taking Cosgrove through the world of cuisine, and by this time we were past the meat-loaf stage and into elaborate constructions involving pastry caverns and shallots. (This is generally known among the restaurateur class as "boy food," since most of the sous-chefs are gay.) Bentley was telling us about his new job--there were always new ones because he kept getting fired from the old ones--and Quentin would lecture him on reliability. Bentley would fire back with an assortment of homilies. He had a big heart. He would spread his wings. He will show the world.


And Quentin would rag on him. "The boy [which is how he always referred to Bentley] can't even remember his house keys. He goes out without money."


"But my devotion is true," Bentley would reply--or some other meaningless statement.


Yet sometimes, when they left of an evening, Quentin would guide Bentley out the door with a hand on his back, not roughly and not neutrally, either. Tenderly. And once  Cosgrove assembled a doggy bag of lemon veg for Bentley, and, as he had forgot it (of course) and he and Quentin had only just departed, I took it into the hall and found them in front of the elevators staring at each other, Quentin stroking Bentley's hair, the two of them utterly gone from the world in contemplation of some deep, unspoken bond.


                                               **********************


It was spring soon enough, and the street fairs started up along the avenues. You never knew where they would strike, and one Sunday Carlo, Quentin and his eternal toothpicks, and I, strolling through the town, happened upon a fair on Madison and aimlessly browsed through the kiosks. Here they offered bedding or socks, there you found the colorful posters California fruit yards paste on their boxes. As we wandered here and there, Quentin kept up a running critique of Bentley.


"Everything I ask," he was saying, "it's like trying to pacify Mosul. Simplest things, even."


"He's young," Carlo observed. "Still finding his way along."


"He's a screw-up. I ask him to get a dinner ready. Anything. Easy. Well, it's like he can't make tuna sandwich with a tomato slice, like in the stores. So hard? Or put him on a job." Quentin idly pawed through a sampling of goofy T-shirts. "The simplest run you could imagine, hauling from East Thirties to West Sixties, less than half a truckload. S'called a 'basic': bed, table, chairs, TV. A box of papers and stuffed animals. One was a weird elephant, and the boy suddenly offers to buy it. Yeah, buy a part of the haul, right in front of me."


"It doesn't hurt to ask, does it?" I asked.


Exasperated, Quentin said, "It's not professional. You don't get involved in the inventory. You haul it." But Quentin was being distracted by a cute blond guy inspecting a used-CDs boutique. "So now we got a stuffed elephant sitting on the..."


And with that, Quentin took off in the blond's direction. In the time-honored etiquette of the gay encounter of the third kind--contact--he took up a position right next to the blond and started lobbing stares at him.


"I don't get that relationship at all," I told Carlo, as we watched Quentin working the opportunity. "Bentley is like paper that Quentin keeps tearing up." Carlo questioningly held up against his torso a T: white with two horizontal red stripes at the center.


"Nifty," I told him, but he dropped it back in the stacks. "And, anyway, are they just housemates in Brooklyn, or is there...more?"


Carlo smiled. "There's a lot more."


Meanwhile, Quentin had engaged the blond in conversation, the blond apparently very happy to make Quentin's acquaintance.


"He's always snorking about Bentley," I went on. "Or always snorking, period. I know you and Quentin have some profound backstory, and he's a devastato, no question."


Indeed, the blond was not only conversing with Quentin but touching him, auditioning his structure right through his clothing. I should probably add that Quentin was in a mesh-T under a Navy blue sports jacket over white beachcomber shorts, an odd look that he carried off very well. Folks were watching.


"What's snorking?" asked Carlo, as we enjoyed the scene over at the CD stand.


"Criticizing and complaining at once. It's more creative than snarking. Like 'The boy is so dumb they had to burn down the schoolhouse to get him out of the sixth grade.' Snork."


"Buy us out on sale!" the CD vendor was shouting. "If we don't bank I'll have to give up my children!"


"He snorks," Carlo echoed, trying it out. "But he's solid and determined. He's the sort who'll truly take care of you if necessary, come to that. And look how he sleeks out that blond boy there."


We looked.


"He's got that daddy thing, with authority and such. Young guys like a man who can explain their dreams to them. They like his eyes, that purple in your life all of a sudden. And he's a vet, so he's got command. He's ramrod straight and tall, and that's daddy, right?"


A cop reprimanded a straight couple recklessly sliding through on skates as the CD vendor called out, "We love them, but we can't keep them! Buy and save!" The blond kid wrote in a little notebook, tore out the page, and gave it to Quentin, who shook the blond's hand and sauntered back to us as the blond stood there watching him.


"Funny thing," Carlo went on, "was old Quentin was crazy for skirt back home. He knocked a girl up when they were still in eighth grade or the like." Quentin was about fifteen feet away, and Carlo added, "No more, now."


"We'll give up our children!" the CD vendor cried, greatly enjoying himself. "Buy Peggy Lee, buy those Rolling Stones! Our children are calling to us!"


                                                     TO BE CONTINUED













Monday, February 16, 2015

DADDIES DON'T BREAK--PART ONE


A TALE FOR GROWNUPS ONLY





Old stories are best, they say, and this one takes us back just a few years, to when Carlo had recently moved in with us and Cosgrove was just learning to cook. There are only two ages in American life--young and invisible--but my gay family managed to secure a place between the two, and it kept us buzzing merrily about the town, looking for the next mischief to get into.

Carlo actually had a job, short-haul moving for a small firm headquartered in Brooklyn, and one day, while talking about the work, he happened to mention that his boss was bisexual, crazily attractive in an offbeat way, and a war vet "who takes command with purple eyes."

I know story material when I hear it, and, as I got my pad and Pilot Precise V5 out, to Carlo's grin, he went on about his employer. His name was Quentin, and he came from Carlo's home town, a magical place lost in the mist between Camelot and Brigadoon but generally known as Clarence, South Dakota. In their youth, Carlo and Quentin used to get smashed on Thunderbird and "fool around" (that irritatingly ambiguous term covering everything from a little bitta to the Emperor Tiberius' orgies on Capri). And their families went to the same church. And there was a scandal of some kind. And--

"Wait a minute," I put in, trying to get all this down. "Purple eyes?"

"Check," said Carlo. "And don't try wrestling him, 'cause he'll pin you flat, and then it's Loser Pays. No gym on the guy, but he's all tall and shoulders for sure. A fair boss to the help, too, and they give him respect. But he doesn't say much."

Pen flying, I asked, "Were you boy friends?" 

"Hard to be boy friends with Quentin. The unforgiving type? About everything? Check. I owe him heavy, though. He wants to know more about New York life, where everyone's suave and the play shows are full of music and starlight. I figured you could be the information dude on that."

"Okay, but I need more. What's the center of Quentin?"

Carlo did a slow smile and a fast shrug. "He's hard to place. And likes it that way."

We were to meet for lunch a block north of the East Village Tower Records--remember records?--and something very telling happened. "There he is," said Carlo, as we approached:  very formidable, clearly, but not exactly handsome or built. If I had to categorize him by physical type, I'd call it "Lean and Unforgiving." Just then he was standing there in the moment, with a toothpick working in his mouth. Carlo raised one hand in lieu of waving; Quentin nodded.

And this is what happened: a handicapped man was chugging along behind Quentin in one of those motorized wheelchairs. This guy had a  sour look on his face, and I had the uncanny feeling that he was going to crash into Quentin, though the guy was looking right at Quentin's back. In other words: how dare you be in my way? Just for that, I'm going to run you down.

And he did. Not hard enough to knock Quentin over, but enough to stagger him. Quentin turned and confronted the guy, who said nothing with more of that sour look. That was probably worse than the assault itself. Because Quentin calmly grabbed the guy, lifted him out of his wheelchair, and dropped him in the parking lane next to the curb as the chair clonked over on its side, its wheels revolving.

The two of them kind of froze like that for a second, and the weird thing was that the many passersby just kept right on going, though they couldn't have missed what happened. No one even came over to help. And Quentin turned again and walked up to meet us without uttering a word about the incident. Carlo introduced us, and as we shook hands I looked at Quentin's eyes, which were indeed purple, with a little blotch of grey in the left one. Purple eyes! Quentin then said, cryptically--but much of what he said, I eventually discovered, was cryptic--"Now it's good." And we went off to lunch.


                                                 *********************


Life in the gay sestiere is so homogenized--monolithically liberal really, with automatic policy positions right down the party line--that we forget that midwesterners like Carlo and Quentin don't share our worldview.

For example, here's Quentin on self-defense. "Way I see it," he said, "is the aggressor has no rights. Why? He's the aggressor, why. Look. Guy comes up to you with a gun. Gimme money. You want to understand where he's been and undergone, like they say nowadays? You want to sympathize with his...yeah. Plight? Hell, no. You want him dead."

He would treat me to these little lectures on the protocols of life on his visits to my place--technically to hang with Carlo, but, I think, to strive with me as a Father Confessor with an unbeliever. In fact, I saw a lot of things the way he saw them. But Quentin was not a good listener, and he didn't differentiate among New Yorkers, unless, like Carlo, you happened to come from his part of the world first. New York had a problem, thought our Quentin. It was--this is my word--"unjudgmental."

"Then why are you here?" I once asked him.

He was silent at first. Then: "Got into trouble back home. Bore it for a while, but it didn't let up." He turned his right hand over, palm up, plain as day. "Had to get somewhere's else. New York's as else as any."

Carlo cut in with "There's liberty here." He looked at Quentin. "Right?"

"Liberty's what you make it," said Quentin. Whatever that means.

We were dining on bacon-corn bread salad, the first dish in Cosgrove's ascendance as The Little Chef. Beside the two title ingredients, the plate took in whatever else was handy--cucumber, scallions, tomatoes, and so on. I used to prepare meals like this when I was in college; the results are called "grubl." If the fridge turned out to be a rich storehouse of eatmeats, you got "regal grubl." If you had only odds and ends to work with, it was "frugal grubl."


"Meant to tell you this," said Quentin. You never knew who "you" was when he spoke, because he didn't aim the words the way the rest of us do. He didn't fix "you" with a look. He talked as if he were a Samuel Beckett character, as if no one could hear him because everybody's an inanimate object or dead. Did he train for battle and go to war this way? What about troop cohesion? After all, isn't that the singular quality of urban gay life? Our cohesion?


What Quentin meant to say was that someone was coming to stay with him from their home town. So "you" was Carlo.


"Who wants seconds?" Cosgrove asked, and we all offered him our empty plates. While he busied himself refilling them, Quentin elaborated after helping himself to one of his supply of toothpicks while staring more or less into space.


"You remember that kid Bentley? With the single mom? Always runnin' around like a jet plane and talking nonsense?"


"Sarah Wenden's boy," said Carlo. "He's coming here?"


"Didn't like his mother's new guy. Fightin' and such. So he's movin' out. Asked if he could crash with me till he gets set up. I've got the spare room, true. Mailed a letter and his photo." Cosgrove handed him his reappointed plate, and the toothpick went on standby. "He's a cute one. Charms his way around, I guess. You know how it is with cute boys. Always think they own the place."


"How does he happen to know you, though?" I asked. Quentin didn't answer; sometimes he leaves a line blank. Instead, he announced, "It's cute boys everywhere. And the whole world wonders about them. Wants to get close and see."


"See what?" asked Cosgrove, handing me my plate.


"How'd you two guys meet?" asked Quentin, looking at the bookcase.


Cosgrove took the question. "The family let Cosgrove stay with them, and he learned the ways of gay fashion."


A little silence after that. Then Quentin observed, "It's sophisticated in the big city, when you speak your piece. Young Bentley is real pretty in his photo. He'll make me feel good, and that's my piece about it. Now it's good."


                                                ***************************


Well, Bentley was a looker, all right, with a slim, uncomplicated physique and an uptempo energy level. Every time Cosgrove mastered a new recipe, Quentin and Bentley would be summoned to test-drive it with us, though Quentin was far more interested in my DVD of the Thames Television series The World at War, with its stupendous historical footage, Laurence Olivier's High Maestro Vocal Tone narration, and the even the Shostakovich-inflected logo theme music. This documentary on World War II was not only compelling but classy: and Quentin responded to class. Some working-class men go through life reviling the arts and education when they aren't ignoring them, but Quentin was clever enough to sense that widening one's cultural background created opportunities of all kinds. Still, there was much that mystified him, not least the realization that most of the gay New Yorkers he met appeared to earn their living by invisible means.


Cosgrove, for instance: what did he do, besides enjoy himself? Once, right in the middle of the unveiling of Cosgrove's first original dish, Meat Loaf-Coconut Surprise, Quentin suddenly asked, "Are you Bud's ward? Like in novels of the old days?"


"He's asking you," I told Cosgrove, as Quentin happened to be (apparently) engrossed in the second disc of The World at War.


"I'm not the ward," Cosgrove replied. "I'm the artistic houseboy."


"What's the salary on that?" Quentin asked.


Carlo laughed. "He's a professional sweetheart, Quentin my man. So he gets his rent and chuckwagon paid for."


Now Bentley speaks up.


"I'm a sweetheart, too. But Quentin makes me pay rent and halfies on the groceries."

"And you'll say me thanks for that," Quentin warned him, as I switched off the TV. Enough apocalypse for one night. "Puttin' you up in my spare room in the big city. But who is Bentley? A runaway with no friends."


"Why can't I have what Cosgrove has?" Bentley countered. "I could cook recipes, too. There are certain chowders I have in mind."


"You couldn't cook Corn Flakes," Quentin told him.


Bentley looked at Carlo with a defeated air, and Carlo nodded sympathetically. That seemed to wrap up the scene, so I switched the TV back on.


I wonder if this is the right time to tell you that Bentley's eyes are purple, with a little grey blotch in the left one, just like Quentin's.


                                                          TO BE CONTINUED